Full House Reading Challenge – Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

Genre: Children’s, Classics

Narrative Style: Third Person

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1930

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The Walker children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake (somewhere in the Lake District.) They are looking forward to some adult-free adventure so when they spot another boat flying a pirate flag, they expect there will be war. And who is the grumpy grown up in the houseboat and why does he think the Walkers have broken into his boat? 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – Middle Grade

I was going to read a more modern book for this genre but my husband was so appalled that I hadn’t read this, that I had to read it in order to shut him up. I don’t remember having heard of it when I was younger and as I was obsessed with horses, my books tended to revolve around them.

This was a very old-fashioned book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it had clear differences from modern children’s fiction. Like Little Women, it was less strong on plot and was more a series of events involving the same people. It was a set of adventures rather than one over-arching storyline. As such, it took a long time to get started and I could imagine young readers getting bored waiting for something to happen, being used to diving headlong into the action straightaway.

It is hard to imagine modern parents allowing their children to go off unsupervised onto a deserted island. There is one moment when the Walker mother visits to find Titty alone on the island and despite her worries, leaves her their alone. As a child reading, I know I would have appreciated the idea of an adult-free environment. As an adult, I found it a little harder to deal with.

Overall, I did enjoy it but I must admit, I wished for more to happen. I had thought it would be a little like the famous five, with a mystery to solve but although there was some intrigue involving the houseboat owner, it wasn’t really enough to satisfy me. The children – particularly the Walker family – were fairly well-drawn and I didn’t find them too annoying (unlike a lot of modern novels). I probably wont carry on and read the rest of the series though.



Full House Reading Challenge – The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (contains spoilers)

Genre: Postmodern, Fantasy

Narrative Style: First person from different but interlinked points of view.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Holly Sykes sometimes hears voices and has strange visions she calls ‘daymares’. She appears to attract psychic phenomena. Little does she realise what she is doing when she offers an old woman called Esther Little sanctuary. As a result, she is drawn into a war between the Horologists and their enemies the Anchorites. 

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – Attractive Cover

This is a bit of a weird category for me. I don’t really take that much notice of a book’s cover. It’s not something that factors into the buying process particularly. I usually have a good idea of what I want when I go into a bookshop. And if I don’t then an attractive cover could easily be overridden by a dull synopsis. Or vice versa. The result of this was me searching through my books for what would pass as an attractive cover. There were less then you might expect.

This is my third David Mitchell so I knew what to expect: multiple narrators, spirtual nonsense about reincarnation, linking stories where you have to spot the connection. On all three counts, I wasn’t disappointed.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. Mitchell writes different voices well – they are all distinctive and realistic. My favourite out of The Bone Clocks narrators was Crispin Hershey, author and artistic snob who is dealing with some of the worst reviews of his career. However, as I found with Ghostwritten, not all narrators are equally loveable and some sections of this book were easier to get on with than others.

I also found some of the spiritual details a little hard to take on board. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against all fantasy or anything like that. Just it was most enjoyable when the spiritual ideas were in the background. But when one of the narrators is a horologist and more details are revealed about what exactly is going on, I found it harder and harder to suspend my disbelief.

I was a little let down by the means by which Holly escaped the Second War. Although the reader is prepared for her survival by the knowledge that her little brother was really a horologist and had given her some of the means for her escape in the form of a labrynth necklace. The final detail of the golden apple just felt like a step too far.

Also, Hugo Lamb who until this point has been unbearably selfish and mean, psychopathic almost, suddenly has a complete change of heart. It is suggested that this is because he loved Holly but this did not feel convincing to me.

The ending was also disappointing. Holly’s final section shows a world that has destroyed itself. The Internet is all but gone, food rations are in place and there has been a nuclear reactor meltdown which is causing radiation problems. All of the details in this section were convincing and I was ready to give a higher rating. However, once again, a sudden piece of good luck allows survival to Holly’s children, if not Holly herself. As with the golden apple that saves Holly earlier, the sudden appearance of the Icelandic vessel is a bit of lazy plot device, a deus ex machina by any standard. Although the reappearance of Marinus, Holly’s saviour, was to be expected, this was heavy handed.

For all that, this is an interesting book which is largely well-written. The characters are rounded and their voices were unique. They all had well-developed personalities. Of course, the idea of reincarnation is fascinating and something that Mitchell is clearly interested in. However, it is not something I can really believe in, even in a fictional context and so that spoiled things a little for me.

Full House Reading Challenge – Life Class – Pat Barker

Genre: Historical fiction, war

Style: Third person from various points of view

Rating: 3.5/5

Published: 2007

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Elinor and Paul are both artists, studying at the Slade School of Art when war breaks out. They have just declared their feelings for each other when Paul leaves to be an ambulance driver in France. Will their relationship survive the distance and the changes that war brings about in Paul’s character.

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – genre: borrowed. 

I borrowed this from my in-laws. I asked my father-in-law to recommend something for me to read as there was no specific book I wanted to borrow from them. After picking out three or four that I had already read, he gave me Life Class. As I had already read the Regeneration Trilogy, I was looking forward to reading this one.

It took a while to get started. There was a lot of the story set in Slade School of Art, relaying Paul’s relationship before Elinor and analysing his feelings about his art. While this was well-written, I didn’t find it as interesting as the second half of the book. It felt a bit like doodlings, compared to the real picture later on in the war. This may have been deliberate as Paul – and his painting – only come alive during the war but it made the novel drag a bit.

Paul’s experience’s, first in a field hospital and then as an ambulance driver, are as brutal and soul-destroying as you might imagine. Paul begins to paint the injured soldiers, aware of the fact he may never be able to show these paintings. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to record what he sees, feeling that he has found the true function of art.

When Elinor visits him in France, she finds it difficult to relate to his experiences. She refuses to involve herself in the war in any way. She will not train as a nurse or any of the other possible female roles. This made it quite hard to like her. Instead, she becomes involved with the Bloomsbury Set and puts her art above everything. While I can see why you might feel like that, it made Elinor into a distant character who refused to engage with the horrific events around her.

As with the Regeneration books, it’s the details that stick with you. In the field hospital, Paul is helping to nurse a suicidal soldier back to life, only for him to be shot when he was well enough, a soldier’s penis is sliced off by a bomb and so on. The brutality of war is very clearly drawn and these sections were the best in the book. Also, the friendship between Paul and fellow ambulance driver, Richard Lewis is touching and much more believable than his relationship with Elinor.

Overall, I finished this feeling a bit let down. This is well written, it was a new point of view on the war (for me anyway) and left wanting to find out more about the true stories behind the novel. However, it seemed a bit flat overall, perhaps because it took so long to start talking about the war. And I was left wanting to know more about Paul and how his experiences had changed him. For me, this book could have started at part two and carried on. (I know there is a sequel and I will probably read that at some stage.)

Full House Reading Challenge – Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Genre: Childrens, Classics

Narrative Style: Third person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1868

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Little Women follows the lives of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth as they grow from children to women. They are poor and their father is away fighting in the Civil War. They face many difficulties due to their lack of money, their gender or their character. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Book from childhood

I was a little nervous to read this as an adult. As a child, I read it many times and I loved it. Jo was my role model, I felt I was so much like her. I was concerned that it might not live up to my memories of it.

The one thing I didn’t really remember was how moralistic the narrative voice was – and the story itself is a series of moral lessons. This obviously didn’t bother me too much when I was younger (maybe because children often see things in straightforward black and white) but I found it a little heavy handed in places.

I’d also forgotten exactly how much I identified with Jo. She was clumsy, tomboyish, wants to be a writer and she even shared my birth month of November. She was definitely a huge influence on me, growing up. Little Women is often criticised for the way the girls are taught to be ‘little women’ but I found (still find) Jo’s difficulty with her role relatable. In fact, none of the girls find becoming a women easy or straightforward. All the girls are allowed the dream of different identities. This is what marks the novel out as a feminist classic.

I am tempted to read the rest of the series again, that’s how enjoyable I found it. I rescued the books from my mother’s when she died a few years ago. The edition I read was originally my mother’s and dated from 1939. It is not a joint edition with Good Wives. It ends with Meg’s proposal from Mr Brooke. And so now I am trying to remember how it works out for the girls. I think I will treat myself to a week of reading them when I am on half term.

Full House Reading Challenge – All the Little Children – Jo Furniss (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Published in 2017

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2017

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Published in 2017

Synopsis: Marlene and her sister in law take their children camping. However, they soon realise that something strange has happened to the rest of England. Dead bodies are piling up and there are no news broadcasts or electricity. It transpires that there has been a terrorist attack which has released a deadly virus. However, this will not be the only problem that they face when trying to get to safety.

This book is about motherhood. The post-apocalyptic, virus ridden setting is almost irrelevant. This is about Marlene learning to become a ‘good’ mother. It reminded me of films such as Jack & Sarah where the mother is sacrificed by the writer so that dad can learn to be a good father. Only this time the entire population of England was sacrificed for Marlene to learn her lesson.

Marlene was previously a workaholic who had little time to spend with her children. She has little fellow-feeling for her sister in law, Joni and her teenage daughter. Nor does she feel anything for a lost boy they pick up. A contrast is drawn between Joni, who is hippyish and maternal to the nth degree and Marlene who is cool and practical. These positions shift as Joni becomes withdrawn and unable to cope and Marlene has to take over.

This isn’t a bad book. The plot trots along at a nice pace. It does take a little bit of swallowing. The virus does its virulent job of killing everyone off but somehow they survive despite being near a number of dead bodies. The virus then disappears completely. This seemed unlikely to me although the author does try and explain that the virus used chemicals somehow and obviously once everyone was dead, there were very few of those left. Still, it didn’t quite hang right for me

Marlene and Joni were both annoying and both stereotypical. Neither really escaped from the character trap they were placed in. Marlene is supposed to have transformed at the end when she leaves her family in order to find Joni’s daughter but it just seemed like one more abandonment of them to me.

The ending of this novel is ripe for a sequel and I found that a bit annoying as it ends in the middle of the action and I wouldn’t really be tempted to read on. I would have preferred a bit more closure but I guess the point is that Marlene has learned her lesson about motherhood and so the novel can end. As I said at the beginning, this isn’t reallly a survival novel, more a story of how to become a better mother.






Full House Reading Challenge – Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

Genre: Family, Religion

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2004

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: John Ames is trying to write a memoir for his young son. Aware of the fact that he will die soon and will not have much time with his son, he tries to write down what he feels is important – about his family and about history. Ames is a preacher and there is a lot of ruminating about the nature of heaven and what happens when you die. 

Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – American / Canadian Writer

I inherited this book a few years ago from my husband’s aunt and it has sat on the shelf since then. I was aware of Robinson as an important female American writer but when I read the blurb on the back of Gilead, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. I’m not a particularly religious person and I wondered if it would be too spiritual for my tastes.

It turned out that this was true to a certain extent – it was the reason I didn’t give it five stars. However, there is much to love about this book. Robinson’s prose captures Ames’ voice exactly and I could almost hear him talking in my ear. It was like having an intimate conversation with an older relative.

The historical details – the story dates back to the civil war – were interesting and vividly painted. I was particularly touched by the description of son and father setting out to find the grave of Ames’ grandfather who walks away from Gilead. Father and grandfather did not see eye to eye as the older man was a radical abolitionist and often preached in a blood soaked shirt.

Ames is particularly affected by the arrival of his namesake, the son of his neighbour and friend. John Ames Boughton had left town in disgrace many years ago and Ames finds he is worried by his reappearance and struggles to respond when the younger man reaches out to him. He has a number of theological struggles but the main one is to try to forgive Boughton his sins which he finds increasingly difficult.

It would be impossible not to feel for Ames who has been lonely for most of his life after losing his first wife in childbirth and his baby daughter not long after. He is now married to a much younger woman and has a child but is dying and cannot bear the thought that soon he will be nothing but a memory.

There isn’t a lot in the way of action in this story. It is mostly about the struggles of an old man who is about to die. The slow reveal of Boughton’s true situation offers some suspense but really the novel is about spiritual matters and how best to live your life according to your beliefs. In the end, Ames is able to respond kindly to Boughton, giving an example to his young son of how to live and be thankful for what you have.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I’ve Struggled With

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This weeks theme is Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Loving or Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through or Ten Books I’ve Most Recently Put Down.

I don’t often finish a book because I really hate abandoning something that has already taken up some of my time but I do struggle sometimes especially when it comes to classics. This list is a mix of books that I have struggled with – some I thought I would love but didn’t, some I didn’t finish and some that I’m glad I persevered with.

  1. Lorna Doone – R. D. Blackmore. I thought this was going to be an exciting adventure. I’d seen an adaptation and that was very good. They must have just taken the best bits and avoided all the filler. Far too slow. I’d recommend the 2000 BBC adaptation with Richard Coyle and Aiden Gillen. Much more fun.
  2. Gateway to Fourline – Pam Brondos. The pace was too slow with this one. It is the start of a series so I think the author wanted to include a lot of background and information. The characters were a bit flat too. I won’t be reading on.
  3. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie. I love a good detective story so I thought I’d give Christie a go. This wasn’t much fun though. The characters were unlikeable, the plot was cheesy and Poirot was so annoying I wanted to reach into the text and throttle him.
  4. The Short Drop – Matthew Fitzsimmons. This is a more modern text. It has a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads but I have no idea why. It was obvious what was going to happen next and the plot was cliched. I finished it but it was not very satisfying.
  5. The Last Girl – Joe Hart. This was a struggle to finish. It was full of tortured metaphors and overblown language which distracted from the plot. Another series I won’t be continuing.
  6. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn’t even get halfway through this one. I found the style impossible to get on with. A shame because it is an interesting idea.
  7. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemmingway. It was a good job this was so short otherwise I’d never have finished it. I just didn’t see the point.
  8. The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough. There were a number of reasons that this was hard work. The plot was cliched and unrealistic. The conversations read as if written by someone who had never spoken to anyone before. It was melodramatic and Meggie was too much a martyr to inspire much empathy.
  9. Rob Roy – Sir Walter Scott. I did finish it and some of it was exciting and interesting but Scott’s habit of describing every single meal and conversation really made the pace drag.
  10. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy. This was quite a recent read. It took me five months and some days I could barely even look at it, never mind read it. However, I am glad that I finished it. Not just for the prestige of saying I’ve read it either. There are a lot of interesting characters and the relationships were well drawn. I was less keen on the war elements and the epic battles.